It's been five years of pedal-strike, guys, and I initially couldn't come up with anything that had changed.
Which is completely ridiculous, I know. Because if I browse through my own archives, I've gone from riding a crappy fixed gear around town to making cycling caps to getting a real [beautiful] road bike to doing group rides to moving to Tokyo to visiting Paris for the Tour to being able to call pros like Tim Johnson and Adam Hansen, friends.
But always my own worst enemy, I tend to discount whatever these "achievements" or "milestones" might mean. So when this blog's fifth anniversary rolled around, I didn't know quite what to write. Conveniently, I was also in Paris - the first time I'd ever gone to Europe in my life - and settled with the mental excuse that it's not that one can't blog in Paris, just that one shouldn't.
With the end of 2013 approaching - too soon and not soon enough - I've been looking back on the year[s] and the drafts never published. I may have only raced twice in my life so far, haven't become quite as fast as I'd like to be, and still struggle to climb. So what's really changed other than slightly more toned calves and a definitely more worn down cassette?
Well, to take a less egotistical view: a lot. Although I've most likely changed more than I realize, my experiences cycling and through this blog haven't become strangely awesome because of me or anything I've done. If you haven't noticed, I tend to get in my own way. I've looked at my bike too many times and seen it as pregnant with unnecessarily negative associations. The heavy guilt of feeling inadequate and the insipid, toxic bitterness of that emotion can pollute even the simplest of loves. Sometimes, it's no small miracle we're still together.
Perseverance appears to have little to do with it. I'm pretty good at this so I feel competent enough to comment on it. Really, I can persevere with the best of them. I can persevere though 3 hours indoor trainer rides, summers in Tokyo, and multiple seasons of NCIS. I could probably persevere my way through the seven circles of Hell [wait, was that called “law school”?]. But guess what, an ability to persevere doesn’t correlate strongly with enjoyment. My ability to be sticky isn't what has made cycling sticky. That stuff, the good glue that's held all this together, and has made my not-so-well-financed life exponentially richer, is made up of the brilliant people I've met along the way. An experience, I've learned - however amazing - can only go so far without great friends to share it with. You guys have even made the shitty experiences laughably memorable. I can't thank you all enough.
There have been a few other big lessons this year, too.
Hypothermia, deadlifts, and the art of YOLO-ing
A few days ago, at a Starbucks at Narita airport, Adam was telling me about the closest he’d been to death. It involved a race, a gas station water boiler, and hypothermia. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be laughing about this,” I said, mid-almost-falling-out-of-my-chair-LOL-ing. “Oh, we all do,” he said, “but, you know, I wouldn’t want anyone I care about to have to go through something like that.”
It was a simple statement, but one that reminded me that unless I’m getting paid boatloads of money to do something [like, shipping container boatloads], I don’t really have to do anything I don’t want to. The blog and the cycling have been largely self-financed [I can count the number of paid writing gigs I’ve done on half of one hand], because money was never really the point, only my [admittedly] selfish enjoyment of the sport. Racing can be a natural progression of that enjoyment, but over the past few years, I’d made it a necessary one. I felt I had to race to be considered a “real” cyclist. And that’s really just a bunch of fucking bullshit.
People will always advise you on what you should be doing, regardless of how it affects your happiness. Shoulds are easy. They’re laid out for you and you just follow the rules. You end up "right," but also boring and predictable. Your friends, on the other hand, will tell you to do whatever makes you happiest, and to fuck the shoulds. When you ignore their extremely well-meaning advice, they’ll be there for you when you end up unhappy, overtrained and overwhelmed. And then they’ll give you the same piece of advice when you wail, “what do I do?” And maybe you’ll do that and maybe you won’t, but eventually you’ll figure it out and do whatever it is that makes you happiest. When that finally happens, you’ll also probably feel sort of like an idiot for wasting everyone’s time. So, since [as far as we know] we only live once, just do it. Whatever makes you happiest,
even especially if it doesn’t line up with all the shoulds.
As someone who loves checklists, guidelines, and rules, that concept is still a struggle. I got lost there for a bit because no one can tell you what makes you happy; you have to try a bunch of stuff, fail really hard at all of them, and see what still makes you smile. Cycling is a huge part of that, but I’ve made room for heavy deadlifts, sewing machines, and that giant list of other super secret projects. Sometimes, instead of riding I’ll go shred my muscles at the gym. And if a voice inside my head tells me I should feel guilty about it, I say, "Hey, you know what? Fuck it. Because YOLO. And today was a good day."
Bruce Lee, earthquakes and making it good
We had an earthquake a few weeks ago, while I was 13 floors up in a high rise office building. When you're up that high, your world doesn’t just tremble, it sways. It can be nauseating and everyone pauses for a few seconds. We brace ourselves for the swaying to either stop or get worse. No matter where I am - at home in bed, at work at my desk - I grab onto something unconsciously, as if anything could anchor me into place when the earth is moving.
The action is futile, but ingrained. And in grasping the edge of my desk that day, I realized that it's extended to the way I've clung to situations, beliefs, and people for fear of losing some kind of foundation. Like my grabbing at flimsy cubicle partitions when the earth starts to shake, those tendencies have been to my own detriment.
I don’t think I quite realized how much I’d been limiting myself until I read an excerpt from “The Art of Expressing the Human Body” by Bruce Lee and John Little. Bruce said a lot more, but the important, famous bit he said was this:
“Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.”
I know that seems to contradict my previous statement about not racing, but I like to see that statement as more broadly applicable. That in letting go of ideas of limits, inabilities, and of who you should be, you can create your own possibility – whatever that is for you – and you can also create the goodness of that possibility. I don’t mean succeeding; just that, like those rides that blow up in your face, everything is what you make of it. Life is short – as those earthquakes always remind me – so why limit yourself to something less than good [assholes not included]?
Because if you think about it, this day, this hour, this minute, is a piece of your life that you're giving away. Whatever you're trading it in for - oxygen deprivation, a sultry kiss, snorting a mouthful of coffee out of your nose - well, it better be fucking worth it. And if it isn't, then why the fuck are you wasting your time?
Which might be a long winded way of saying that clinging to certain things has seemed to be the safe thing to do, but if it keeps me unhappy, I'm learning to let them go. One white-knuckled finger at at time. But if it does make me happy? Well, I'm going to try to keep it in my life, for as long as possible. And hopefully not in a weird, creepy Gollum-y kind of way.
I won't lie; the stress and pressure of this blog has sometimes been the source of a lot of unhappy times. But in looking back - even just on this year alone - I'd like to think I'm a better person for it. Sure, all those lessons and attitudes I just wrote about are still in progress. There will be times when I'll be a shitty friend, care too much about what some asshole thinks, or waste my time on something that makes me miserable. But I like to think of it kind of like indoor rides on the trainer. It might look like I'm going nowhere, but I'm putting in the effort.
If you read all of the [disjointed] above, well, drinks [and probably sushi] are on me, if you’re ever in Tokyo. Because, YOLO, right? We might as well make it really fucking good.
See you in 2014!